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Jesse Kregal, principal timpanist for BPO, avid marathon runner, climber, preservationist

Aug. 15, 1930 – June 18, 2015

Jesse Kregal, former principal timpanist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and an avid marathon runner, died Thursday following a brief illness. He was 84.

Born in Portland, Ore., Mr. Kregal’s first experience with music began at the age of 6 with piano lessons from his mother, who had studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

At around the age of 10, he began taking clarinet lessons and soon after, timpani. In high school, he joined the Portland Youth Orchestra as its timpanist.

Mr. Kregal attended Lewis and Clark College, where he majored in music and mathematics, with a minor in psychology.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, he was invited to study at the Juilliard School by Saul Goodman, the principal timpanist of the New York Philharmonic.

After completing his post-graduate study, Mr. Kregal became percussionist and assistant timpanist with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and then joined the Toronto Symphony as its principal timpanist, followed by four seasons with the Oregon Symphony.

In 1970, Mr. Kregal joined the Buffalo Philharmonic as its principal timpanist. In 1964, at the Phillips Collection Gallery in Washington, he presented the first of three recitals titled “Timpani in Solo and Ensemble,” which music critic Paul Hume of the Washington Post highlighted as among the outstanding musical events of the year.

As a soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic, he performed the world premiere of Paul Fetler’s “Concerto for Percussion, Timpani, Piano and Orchestra” under Semyon Bychkov, as well as Raymond Premru’s “Celebrations for Timpani and Orchestra” conducted by Eiji Oue.

Mr. Kregal performed in more than 30 countries, including solo and ensemble engagements in Merida, Venezuela; and Minsk, Belarus.

Apart from music, Mr. Kregal was involved in many community projects. He conceived and directed the idea of Buffalo Opening Night, I and II, in 1979 and 1982.

In 1979 he also edited and directed “Albert Einstein,” a one-man show written by and starring the late actor David Fendrick at UB’s Norton Hall.

Mr. Kregal was a hiker, mountain climber, preservationist and photographer. He completed more than 60 marathons in his lifetime.

Mr. Kregal conceived and was a founder of the Skylon International Marathon between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, Ont. It was the first marathon to start in one country and finish in another.

Mr. Kregal was also the founding director of the Scajaquada Pathway, a multiuse trail parallel to Scajaquada Creek that provides an inland connection from Erie County Riverwalk to Delaware Park Lake. In his honor, the pathway was renamed the Jesse Kregal Pathway.

He was a Buffalo News “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” and also was presented the Dunlop Award from the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kregal is survived by three daughters, Heidi Billittier, Rachel Kregal Phillips and Ariel Kregal; a brother, Joseph Kregal; and two grandchildren.

Services will be private.

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